Zirkle had an ongoing relationship with Barbara Schifflett, who was
the mother of their 4 year old daughter, Christina Zirkle.
In 1999 Barbara broke off the relationship due to abuse and obtained
protective orders against Zirkle, who was eventually ordered to
serve time behind bars for repeatedly violating four protective
orders after the breakup.
Zirkle stewed in jail for 2 months and planned deadly revenge on her
and her daughters, according to testimony from a fellow inmate. He
made good on his plans days after his release.
His 14 year old step-daughter Jessica Schifflett was babysitting for
Christina when Zirkle broke into the home on August 2, 1999. Jessica
told Zirkle that he wasn't supposed to be in the home. Jessica
refused to let Zirkle take Christina from the home and he stabbed
her in the neck with a serrated knife.
He then kidnapped the 4-year-old and on his way to Page County,
stopped to call Barbara at her job in Harrisonburg and told her to "Live
in hell, bitch."
Zirkle drove Christina to a mountain overlook in the George
Washington National Forest, where he stabbed her to death with the
same kitchen knife used against Jessica and then tried to kill
He recovered from his wounds, gave a confession, pled guilty to the
murders, and waived appeals.
Zirkle v. Commonwealth, 553 S.E.2d 520 (Va. 2001) (Direct
Appeal) (Rockingham County).
Zirkle v. Commonwealth, 551 S.E.2d 601 (Va. 2001) (Direct
Appeal) (Page County).
"I would just like to say that I'm sorry to everyone who's been hurt
in this tragedy that I've had. I also want to thank my family for
their love and support, my lawyers, my preacher, for their help in
getting me through this. I want my soulmate Gracie to know that I
love her with all of my heart and soul and I will always be with her."
Virginians for Alternatives to
the Death Penalty
In September 2000, Daniel Lee Zirkle was
sentenced to death for the murders of Christina Zirkle and Jessica
Shifflett in August 1999. Zirkle was 31 years-old when the crime was
The murders occurred on August 2, 1999. Jessica
Shifflett was babysitting Christina at their home in Mount Crawford.
Zirkle stabbed to death 14 year-old Jessica (his step-daughter) and
abducted four year-old Christina (his daughter).
Zirkle then drove
to Rockingham County. At an overlook in the George Washington
National Forest, Zirkle slit Christina’s throat then tried to take
his own life.
His motive in the murders was to get back at Barbara
Shifflett, the girls’ mother. Barbara Shifflett and Zirkle had lived
together for six years. Just prior to the August murders the two had
Police had responded to several domestic violence calls
from the residence. On the day of the murders, Barbara had gone to
the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office to have a warrant sworn out
When Barbara returned home, she found Jessica dead.
Sheriffs discovered Zirkle, with Christina’s body, a short while
On July 17, 2000, Daniel Lee Zirkle pleaded
guilty to the murders. Zirkle was sentenced to death in Page County
for the killing of his daughter and received a sentence of death in
Rockingham County for the killing of Shifflett. Zirkle has been on
death row since August 28, 2000.
Virginia Governor Warner Press
Statement by Governor Warner Regarding the
Scheduled Execution of Daniel Lee Zirkle:
RICHMOND — Governor Mark R. Warner tonight issued
the following statement on the scheduled execution of Daniel Lee
Zirkle by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“Mr. Zirkle pled guilty to the capital murder of
his four year old daughter, Christina M. Zirkle, in Page County
Circuit Court. He pled guilty to the capital murder of his former
girlfriend's 14 year old daughter, Jessica L. Shifflett.
evidence shows that on August 2, 1999, Mr. Zirkle murdered both
girls by slashing and stabbing them in the neck. The death sentences
imposed on Mr. Zirkle were reviewed and affirmed by the Virginia
“I have not been asked to intervene in the case
of Daniel Lee Zirkle, there are no legal challenges to this
scheduled execution, and accordingly, I expect the court-ordered
sentence to be carried out.”
In September 2000, Circuit Judge Porter R. Graves
Jr. ordered Zirkle put to death for the August 1999 knife slaying of
14-year-old Jessica Shifflett.
Zirkle killed the teen at her home in
Mount Crawford before abducting his daughter, 4-year-old Christina
Zirkle, and stabbing her to death hours later on a mountain overlook
in Page County.
After the sentencing, about 2 dozen friends and
family members of Barbara Shifflett, Zirkle's ex-girlfriend and the
slain girls' mother, shed tears and exchanged hugs. Zirkle already
had been sentenced to death in Page County for killing his daughter.
But Barbara said she still supports the 2 additional orders for his
execution. "He took their lives," said a tearful Barbara, struggling
to find words. "He deserved no less." Said family friend Lisa
Dofflemyer: "It doesn't fix anything, but justice was served."
Graves handed Zirkle one death sentence for killing Jessica
Shifflett and another for a separate count of killing within 3 years
of committing another murder.
Zirkle acted out of rage at Barbara Shifflett,
with whom he'd lived for several years until she broke off their
relationship because of ongoing abuse around the beginning of 1999,
according to court testimony.
Zirkle, ordered to serve time behind
bars for repeatedly violating four protective orders Barbara
obtained against him after their breakup, stewed in jail for 2
months and planned deadly revenge on her and her daughters,
according to testimony from a fellow inmate.
He made good on his
plans days after his release. Jessica was babysitting her little
sister when Zirkle broke into the girl's home Aug. 2, 1999. Jessica
told Zirkle that he wasn't supposed to be in the home.
Jessica refused to let Zirkle take Christina from the home and he stabbed
her in the neck with a serrated knife. In his confession to police
he said he sent Jessica to "a special place." He then kidnapped the
4-year-old and on his way to Page County, Zirkle stopped to call
Barbara at her job in Harrisonburg and told her to "Live in hell,
Worried, Barbara left her job and went straight to the
Rockingham County Sheriff's Office to have a warrant sworn out
against Zirkle for ignoring the court order again.
But it was too
late. Zirkle drove Christina to a mountain overlook in the George
Washington National Forest, where he stabbed her to death with the
same kitchen knife used against Jessica and then tried to kill
When Barbara returned home, she found Jessica
dead. Zirkle recovered from the self-inflicted stab wound and he
admitted details of the murder plot to doctors. The only remorse
that survived with him was his failure to kill Barbara Shifflett,
according to other inmates' testimony.
During his court case, he
made clear his wish to be put to death - precluding two scheduled
jury trials with guilty pleas and giving his lawyers explicit orders
not to present evidence that might convince the judges against the
death penalty. Marsha Garst, Rockingham County's commonwealth's
attorney, argued for the condemned killer to get the 2 additional
"That is what the law demands, what the facts of
this case demand and what justice demands," Garst said. "What is the
price of Jessica Shifflett's life?" she asked Graves. "The
commonwealth asks you to answer that question with one word: death."
In August 2000, a Page County judge sentenced
Zirkle to die for stabbing Christina to death. During his argument
for the death penalty, Page Commonwealth's Attorney John Hennessy
recalled the statement of a jail inmate who served time with Zirkle
Zirkle told the inmate about his intention to kill
Barbara Shifflett and both of her daughters. "We know, now, that he
was deadly serious," Hennessy told McGrath.
The prosecutor paused
several times as he emotionally described the violent struggle that
forensic evidence suggests Christina put up when she was killed.
Before his sentencing, Zirkle told Circuit Judge John J. McGrath Jr.
that he was not in control during the incident and that he would
forgive his ex-girlfriend's family for unspecified offenses against
him. Several relatives of his slain daughter's mother gasped during
Authorities had to remove 2 from the courtroom.
Zirkle complimented his lawyers and reiterated to McGrath that the
decision not to contest the capital murder charge against him or
yesterday's death sentence was his.
He then talked about his belief
that it is his obligation to the victims' family. "I have to forgive
them because, if I don't, I won't get to where I want to go," he
said, eliciting an outburst from a relative of Jessica's that led to
her removal from court. Zirkle did not elaborate. "I know that the
Lord knows what happened, I couldn't control," he said. "I have
nothing to prove to anyone." When McGrath imposed the death sentence,
a member of the victims' family stood and clapped emphatically in
Authorities removed him from court. The name of
the man who murdered Barbara Shifflett’s daughters doesn’t even
exist in her vocabulary anymore. She’s replaced it with the word "evil."
Shifflett will be present tonight in this
southeastern Virginia town near the Greenville Correctional Center,
but she won’t watch Daniel Lee Zirkle be injected with a cocktail of
lethal drugs. "I just need to know when I leave there that justice
has been done," Shifflett said. "It should have been done three
years ago when I tried to get help." She tried to get help nearly
three years ago to stop Zirkle from killing her two daughters,
Jessica, 14, and Christina, 4.
Violating a court order, he went to
Shifflett’s home in Mount Crawford, murdered Jessica and kidnapped
Christina. He took the little girl to Story Book Trail on
Massanutten Mountain in Page County, where he killed her. "I guess I
just don’t know what justice would even feel like," she said with a
tired sigh. In Shifflett’s place, her brother and a close friend
will witness Zirkle’s demise. It irks her when people talk about
killing criminals humanely, by lethal injection, Shifflett said. "People
put their animals down like that every day," she said. "I don’t see
how what he did was so humane [to deserve an easy death]."
Throughout more than two years of incarceration,
Zirkle has continued to scorch Shifflett with words. He has
repeatedly told fellow inmates his only mistake was not killing
Shifflett, too. But hardest to swallow were comments he made during
court proceedings after he asked for the death penalty.
He told a
judge and people in the Page County courtroom, "I’ll be with my
girls. I’ll look over my family." Even today, the statement still
makes Shifflett’s skin crawl. "I know that’s not going to happen,"
she said through sniffles. "He’s going to hell straight forward,
full blast." Shifflett said Zirkle set out to take what meant the
most to her — her girls, Jessi and Christina. "They meant more than
life to me," she said, her voice quivering. "Never could I imagine
being without them for a day, much less than going on three years."
Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst was charged
with getting justice for Shifflett and her two girls. Having fought
hard for the death penalty for Zirkle, she hopes the execution will
bring Shifflett at least a little peace. During one court appearance,
she called Zirkle’s act "revenge by a black heart."
For Garst, the
case was a strange twist of fate, having attended Turner Ashby High
School with the murderer. She wonders how someone she knew as a
"punk" teen-ager turned into a cold-blooded murderer. But, in case
Zirkle changed his mind and appealed his death sentence, Garst had a
method to remind her of the lives he stole.
In the corner of her
office, she kept cardboard evidence boxes from the case that
contained enlarged photos of Christina Marie Zirkle and Jessica
Leanne Shifflett, images that still haunt the prosecutor. Still,
Garst won’t go to Jarratt to witness the last beats of Zirkle’s
heart. "I don’t see it as part of my job," she said. She would "take
no joy in seeing anyone die," even if she believed execution was
UPDATE: "I would just like to say that I'm sorry
to everyone who's been hurt in this tragedy that I've had," Zirkle
said after being led into the death chamber.
National Coalition to Abolish
the Death Penalty
Daniel Zirkle - Scheduled Execution Date and
Time: 4/2/02 9:00 PM EST
Daniel Zirkle, guilty of the murders of Jessica
Shifflet and Christina Zirkle, is scheduled to be executed by the
state of Virginia on April 2, 2002. Zirkle, voluntarily entered two
guilty pleas and requested a death sentence.
Furthermore, Zirkle has
waived the rest of his appeals and is heading towards a sure
execution date, with no clemency proceedings in progress. Please
write the state of Virginia in Zirkle’s behalf to protest this state-sanctioned
April 1, 2002
Amnesty International Condemns
Impending Execution of Daniel Zirkle.
(Washington, DC) – As Virginia prepares to
execute its second “volunteer” death row prisoner this year, Amnesty
International calls on Virginia Governor Mark Warner to respect
human rights standards and commute his death sentence. Amnesty
International USA members around the country and in Virginia are
contacting the Governor to express concern that a second Virginia
death row inmate has dropped his appeals and opted for execution.
“Cases of ‘consensual’ executions represent about
one in eight of the more than 700 men and women executed since 1977,
and serve to reiterate the cruelty and brutalizing futility of a
government policy which toys with human life and responds to killing
with further killing,” said Mona Cadena, Field Organizer for the Mid-Atlantic
Regional Office of Amnesty International USA.
There may be many factors contributing to a
prisoner’s decision not to pursue appeals against his or her death
sentence, including mental disorder, physical illness, remorse,
bravado, religious belief, the severity of conditions of confinement
including prolonged isolation and lack of physical contact visits,
the bleak alternative of life imprisonment without the possibility
of parole, pessimism about the appeals prospects, or simply as a
mechanism for the prisoner to gain control over a situation in which
they are otherwise helpless.
Daniel Zirkle was sentenced to death for the
murders of Christina Zirkle and Jessica Shifflett in August of 1999.
He pleaded guilty to the murders in July of 2000. As an organization
that works on behalf of victims worldwide, Amnesty International has
the deepest sympathy for the family and friends of Christina Zirkle
and Jessica Shifflett.
“Amnesty International is opposed to all
executions as a violation of human rights standards; the death
penalty is not merely an act, but a process of dehumanization,
brutalization, and extermination,” said Cadena. “Society should not
be numbed into accepting a process that classifies certain people as
unworthy of life.”
Daniel Lee Zirkle
July 19, 2000
VIRGINIA: Maintaining a death wish apparently reaching back
to the fatal stabbing of his own daughter, Daniel Lee Zirkle
instructed his lawyers yesterday not to present evidence that could
save him from execution.
Page County Circuit Judge John J. McGrath Jr.
scheduled sentencing for Aug. 28. McGrath could order Zirkle, 31, of
Timberville, put to death for killing 4-year-old Christina Zirkle
last year. On Monday, Zirkle waived his right to a trial by jury and
pleaded guilty to the killing, consenting to the possibility of a
After prosecutors presented evidence in favor of
the death penalty, Zirkle's defense lawyers told McGrath their
client had instructed them not to argue against the death penalty.
McGrath spent several minutes instructing Zirkle on the jeopardy he
faced in the sentencing proceeding. A sullen Zirkle affirmed the
judge's instructions and indicated that he has made clear his wish
Zirkle is slated to face another capital murder
count in Rockingham County stemming from the death of his daughter's
half-sister, 14-year- old Jessica Shifflett. Authorities believe
Zirkle killed Shifflett Aug. 2 before allegedly abducting Christina
and killing her in George Washington National Forest in Page County.
A Page County judge yesterday sentenced Daniel
Lee Zirkle to die for stabbing his 4-year-old daughter to death atop
a mountain overlook last year. Before his sentencing, Zirkle told
Circuit Judge John J. McGrath Jr. that he was not in control during
the incident and that he would forgive his ex-girlfriend's family
for unspecified offenses against him. Several relatives of his slain
daughter's mother gasped during Zirkle's statements. Authorities had
to remove 2 from the courtroom.
Zirkle, 32, killed his daughter, Christina, the
same day he killed Jessica Shifflett, his daughter's 14-year-old
half-sister. A Rockingham County judge is scheduled to sentence him
next month for Jessica's murder. Zirkle complimented his lawyers and
reiterated to McGrath that the decision not to contest the capital
murder charge against him or yesterday's death sentence was his.
He then talked about his belief that it is his
obligation to the victims' family. "I have to forgive them because,
if I don't, I won't get to where I want to go," he said, eliciting
an outburst from a relative of Jessica's that led to her removal
from court. Zirkle did not elaborate. "I know that the Lord knows
what happened, I couldn't control," he said. "I have nothing to
prove to [anyone]."
Zirkle lived with ex-girlfriend Barbara Shifflett
until their relationship soured around the start of last year. In
the months that followed, Shifflett obtained several restraining
orders against him, which Zirkle violated several times in visits to
her home in Mount Crawford.
In May 1999, he was convicted of violating
protective orders and assaulting Shifflett. He was ordered to serve
2 months in jail. Jessica Shifflett was baby-sitting Christina.
After the teen-ager told him he wasn't supposed to be at the home,
Zirkle killed her and took Christina with him. He stabbed Christina
to death on an overlook in George Washington National Forest and
tried to take his own life.
When McGrath imposed the death sentence
yesterday, another member of Shifflett's family stood and clapped
emphatically in Zirkle's direction. Authorities removed him from
court. Zirkle had stunned observers when he pleaded guilty in July
to the capital murder charge in Christina's case and did the same a
month later in Jessica's death, precluding scheduled jury trials and
allowing the judges to sentence him to death or life in prison. He
asked for the death sentence each time.
During his argument for the death penalty
yesterday, Page Commonwealth's Attorney John Hennessy recalled the
statement of a jail inmate who served time with Zirkle last year.
Zirkle told the inmate about his intention to kill Barbara Shifflett
and both of her daughters. "We know, now, that he was deadly serious,"
Hennessy told McGrath. The prosecutor paused several times as he
emotionally described the violent struggle that forensic evidence
suggests Christina put up when she was killed.
As the hearing closed, Zirkle raised his hand to
get McGrath's attention. "Your honor," he said, calmly, "thank you."
Virginia Executes Man for Double Slaying
Maria Sanminiatelli - DailyPress.com
AP - April 3, 2002
JARRATT, Va. -- Daniel Lee Zirkle apologized for
killing his 4-year-old daughter and her 14-year-old half-sister
before he was executed for his crimes.
Sitting stiffly inside the
witness box and fighting back tears Tuesday night, the best friend
of the girls' mother clutched pins with the children's pictures and
watched their killer die. The woman, who asked to be identified only
as Lisa, said she volunteered to witness on behalf of Barbara Jo
Shifflett, the victims' mother.
Zirkle, 33, died by injection at the Greensville
Correctional Center at 9:07 p.m. after apologizing to "everyone
who's been hurt in this tragedy that I've had." Accompanied by a
spiritual adviser, Zirkle walked into the death chamber shortly
before 9 p.m. looking pale and shaking slightly but otherwise calm.
He was strapped to a gurney and thanked his family, his lawyers and
his preacher for their support. "I want my soulmate Gracie to know
that I love her with all of my heart and soul and I will always be
with her," he added before receiving his first dose of the lethal
drugs. "Thank you, Jesus," he said before exhaling deeply and then
Zirkle killed his daughter, Christina, in Page
County on Aug. 2, 1999. Earlier that day, he stabbed to death
Jessica L. Shifflett, 14, in neighboring Rockingham County. Zirkle
and Barbara Jo Shifflett, the mother of both girls, had lived
together in Rockingham for about six years, until April 1999.
2, 1999, Zirkle had just been released from jail for violating a
protective order by assaulting Shifflett. A Rockingham jail inmate
testified that Zirkle said he was "going to take care of all three
of them when he got out of there. If he couldn't have them, nobody
else would. He said he was going to kill them, all three."
While Shifflett was at work, Zirkle went to her
house, stabbed Jessica and took Christina to an overlook on
Storybook Trail in Page County, where he stabbed the child to death
and cut his own throat. Zirkle admitted killing both girls and asked
for the death sentence at both trials.
He also refused to let his
lawyers present mitigating evidence. He was sentenced to death for
the capital murders of both girls, and he received a third death
sentence for killing within three years of committing another murder--his
daughter. Zirkle did not appeal his sentence.
He was the second person executed this year in
Virginia and the 85th since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to
resume capital punishment in 1976.
Zirkle v. Commonwealth,
551 S.E.2d 601 (Va. 2001) (Direct Appeal) (Page County).
A grand jury in Page County issued an indictment
against Daniel Lee Zirkle charging him with the capital murder of
Christina Marie Zirkle pursuant to Code § 18.2-31(12) the "willful,
deliberate and premeditated killing of a person under the age of
fourteen by a person age twenty-one or older."
Prior to impaneling a
jury on the morning of the scheduled trial, Zirkle's counsel
informed the circuit court that Zirkle desired to enter a plea of
guilty to the indictment and that he had instructed counsel not to
present any evidence.
After consulting with counsel, Zirkle was
arraigned, and he entered a plea of guilty to the indictment. Before
accepting the plea of guilty, the circuit court considered a proffer
of the evidence that the Commonwealth would have adduced during the
guilt phase of the capital murder trial. Zirkle concurred in the
The circuit court conducted an inquiry incident
to the tendered plea, and the court concluded that Zirkle was
mentally competent and fully capable of understanding the
proceedings, and that he fully understood the nature and effect of
his plea of guilty and the possible penalties that could be imposed
upon him. The circuit court found that Zirkle's guilty plea was made
freely, intelligently, and voluntarily. The court accepted Zirkle's
plea and found him guilty of capital murder.
Pursuant to Code § 19.2-264.4 the circuit court
proceeded with the penalty phase of the capital murder trial. At the
beginning of the penalty phase, Zirkle's counsel informed the court
that Zirkle had directed them not to present any mitigation evidence
and that such direction was made against the advice of counsel.
circuit court asked Zirkle whether he understood that he could
introduce evidence in mitigation and whether he had instructed his
counsel not to present mitigation evidence. Zirkle responded, "I
The Commonwealth presented its evidence. After
considering the evidence and a report prepared by a probation
officer pursuant to Code § 19.2-299 , the circuit court found that
there is a probability that Zirkle would commit criminal acts of
violence in the future that would constitute a continuing serious
threat to society, and that his conduct in committing the offense
for which he was charged was outrageously or wantonly vile,
horrible, or inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind and an
aggravated battery to the victim. The circuit court entered final
judgment fixing Zirkle's sentence at death.
Zirkle directed his counsel not to appeal the
judgment of the circuit court. We entered an order that required the
circuit court to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether
Zirkle's decision to waive his appeal was voluntary and intelligent.
We also directed that the circuit court obtain Zirkle's written
waiver under oath and file it with the transcribed record of the
hearing in the event the court determined that Zirkle's decision was
voluntary and intelligent.
After conducting a hearing, the circuit
court found that Zirkle "freely and voluntarily waived his right to
appeal ... and that [Zirkle] is fully aware of the consequences."
The circuit court obtained an executed written waiver of Zirkle's
right of appeal, signed by Zirkle in open court and under oath. Even
though Zirkle waived his appeal of right and directed his counsel
not to participate in any appeals on his behalf, this Court must
review the imposition of the sentence of death.
In accordance with well-established principles of
appellate review, we will review the evidence in the light most
favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party below. Lenz v.
Commonwealth, 261 Va. 451, 455, 544 S.E.2d 299, 301 (2001)
Barbara Jo Shifflett and Zirkle lived together in
Rockingham County from 1992 until April 3, 1999. Barbara Shifflett
was the mother of two children, Jessica L. Shifflett and Christina
M. Zirkle. Daniel Zirkle was Christina's biological father. On April
3, 1999, Barbara Shifflett took her daughters to spend the night
with her sister, Peggy S. Shifflett. When Barbara Shifflett returned
to her home about 9:00 p.m., Zirkle was there in bed. "[H]e jump[ed]
up out of the bed, and he bump[ed]" Barbara Shifflett in the chest
and stated that he wanted his "f'ing girls home now."
Barbara Shifflett and Zirkle began to argue. She
"picked up" a telephone and tried to call for help by "call[ing]
911." Zirkle "jerked" the telephone from her hand and pushed her
against a fish tank. When Barbara Shifflett tried to use a different
telephone to call for help, Zirkle "jerked the phone out of [her]
hand" and shoved her against a sofa. Barbara Shifflett went into
Jessica's bedroom and used a telephone to call the police.
After the police arrived, Barbara Shifflett left
the home to spend the evening with her sister, Peggy Shifflett.
Zirkle placed a telephone call to Peggy Shifflett's home, and Peggy
Shifflett answered the telephone and hung up the receiver. Barbara
Shifflett described this incident as follows: "And he called back,
and [Peggy] told him that he could not speak to me, to please not
call back. He calls again, and I told her to let me speak to him. So
I spoke to him. And he said that he wanted his f'ing daughters home,
and he wanted them home now. And I told him no, that we wasn't
coming home. And he said ... [h]e said, 'Do you want a war? Have a
war. You'll pay, you f'ing b--.' "
Barbara Shifflett obtained a protective order
which police officers served on Zirkle that night. The protective
order directed Zirkle to stay away from Barbara Shifflett and the
home he shared with her. The next day, Barbara Shifflett and her
sister went to Barbara's home to retrieve some items. While they
were in the home, Zirkle, who had entered the house, attacked
Eventually, Zirkle fled, police officers arrived
at the home, and Barbara Shifflett obtained arrest warrants against
Zirkle for assault and battery and violating the protective order.
After the warrants had been issued, Zirkle continued to place
telephone calls to Barbara Shifflett, and during one conversation,
he told her that she "would be sorry, that [she] would pay."
Subsequently, Zirkle was arrested and convicted
of assault and battery and violating the protective order. Zirkle
was sentenced to incarceration in the Rockingham County Jail. Ricky
Lee Dean, who was confined in the Rockingham County Jail with
Zirkle, testified that Zirkle stated: "[H]e was going to take care
of all three of them when he got out of there. If he couldn't have
them, nobody else would. He said he was going to kill them, all
About 2:30 p.m. on August 2, 1999, Zirkle, who
had been released from jail, placed a telephone call to Barbara
Shifflett while she was at work. Shifflett testified: "I was at work....
At 2:30 [Zirkle] calls me and tells me to live in hell, bitch."
Around 4:30 p.m. that day, Barbara Shifflett left work to obtain
another protective order from a magistrate. When she returned to
work that evening, Barbara Shifflett learned that Zirkle's mother
had made an "urgent" telephone call to her. Barbara Shifflett called
Zirkle's mother, who informed Barbara Shifflett that Zirkle "had
Christina." Barbara Shifflett immediately left work and drove her
car home to check on Jessica, who had been "watching" Christina.
While en route to her home, Barbara Shifflett used her cellular
telephone to call Jessica, but no one answered the telephone.
When Barbara Shifflett arrived at her home, she
entered the house and began to search for Christina. Barbara
Shifflett "holler[ed]" for Christina and Jessica. Barbara Shifflett
went to Jessica's bedroom, and the door was closed. When she opened
the door, Barbara Shifflett found Jessica's body on the floor.
Barbara Shifflett "called 911." When police officers arrived at the
Shifflett residence, they examined Jessica's body and informed
Barbara Shifflett that Jessica was dead. The officers also informed
Barbara Shifflett that Christina had been killed.
Peter Monteleone, an investigator with the Page
County Sheriff's Department, was dispatched to the Storybook Trail
in Page County on August 2, 1999. He had been informed by the
dispatcher that a 30-year-old male, who had threatened to commit
suicide, "had taken his daughter and gone to the trail."
As Monteleone walked down the paved trail, he observed that the wooden
deck area at the end of the trail contained "fresh blood stains."
Monteleone saw "the upper part of a male torso" and a child's leg.
The child's body was lying face down on the male's chest, the male's
left arm was over the child, and there was a knife lying "right off
of [Zirkle's] right hand."
Monteleone determined that Zirkle was alive and
kicked the knife away from his hand. Monteleone tried to determine
whether the child had a pulse, and she did not. Monteleone observed
wounds to Christina's body. Michael Todd Foltz, a member of a rescue
squad, arrived at the scene, checked Christina's vital signs, and
pronounced her dead. Zirkle, who had a self- inflicted wound to his
neck, was transported to a hospital for treatment.
Detective Daniel Comer of the Rockingham County
Sheriff's Department interviewed Zirkle. The defendant stated that
he had taken a knife from his mother's home and that he used the
knife to kill Jessica and Christina.
Ronald J. Jackson, an inmate who was incarcerated
with Zirkle after Zirkle had been arrested for the murders of
Jessica and Christina, gave the following testimony: "An officer
came in, when Mr. Zirkle first entered into the pod. Maybe a week or
two after he had entered, an officer came in to let [Zirkle] know
that he was going to contribute to the car wash that was being given
for his daughters' grave site and the stones. And as the officer
came over and explained what he was going to do, Mr. Zirkle said,
'Well, tell that bitch I said checkmate.' And he ran his thumb
across his throat, and looked dead at the officer." Dr. Frances
Patricia Field, the assistant chief medical examiner for the
Northern Virginia Medical Examiner's Office, qualified as an expert
witness on the subject of forensic pathology. She performed an
autopsy on the body of Christina Zirkle.
Dr. Field testified as follows: "[Christina] had
a superficial incised, or cut wound under her chin. She had a gaping
incised stab wound on the front of her neck. She had some abrasions
on the front of her left shoulder, or lower neck region; a bruise at
the back of her right neck; a small bruise on her right abdomen;
some abrasions, or scraping of the skin, on the right hand and right
knee; and a bruise on her lower right leg. And there was a pressure
mark on her left knee."
Field stated that the stab wound to
Christina's neck extended "to a depth of approximately two and three
quarter inches. It went through the tracheal, or the air passage. It
also went between two cervical vertebrae, between the bony parts,
and cut the spinal cord in half."
Dr. Field opined that this type of
stabbing motion involved considerable force. Dr. Field testified
that Christina would have lived "for a very short period of time[,][o]nly
a few minutes" after this wound was inflicted. The cause of
Christina's death was the stab wound to the neck. The stab wound to
the neck involved cutting and stabbing motions, and the abrasions
and bruises on the back of Christina's neck and the base of her head
indicated that she struggled when Zirkle stabbed her with the knife.
Dr. William Massello, the assistant chief medical
examiner for Western Virginia, qualified as an expert witness in the
field of forensic pathology. He performed an autopsy on Jessica
Shifflett's body. He testified that her body had five stab wounds to
the neck. Two wounds were on the left side and extended into the
neck approximately three to five inches. These wounds "cut through a
major artery, a major vein, and the back portion of the windpipe in
the front of the neck. And in doing so, they created ... they would
have caused a lot of external bleeding, bleeding into the windpipe,
or the airway, and also bleeding into the supporting tissue and the
muscles of the neck."
Jessica's body had two additional wounds on the
front of the neck. Those wounds extended "into the muscle of the
neck, and into a glandular structure ... called the thyroid gland,
which regulates your metabolic rate." When asked whether he was able
to determine which of the five wounds would have been lethal to
Jessica, Dr. Massello responded: "I couldn't tell you which one. But
I can tell you that one of the two, or both on the left side of the
neck, were terribly, terribly lethal, and either one of those wounds
would have caused death within many seconds, or a few minutes, after
being inflicted." Dr. Massello testified that the types of injuries
on the child's neck were consistent with the blade size and type of
knife taken from Zirkle.
In 1988, Zirkle was convicted of armed robbery.
Nancy Berry, the victim of the robbery, testified that Zirkle
entered a store where she was employed as a cashier, displayed a
butcher knife, and demanded that she "[g]ive [him] some money."
Berry gave Zirkle money from a cash register, and he left the store.
Zirkle pled guilty in 1999 to possession of marijuana and was
convicted of that offense. The Commonwealth presented evidence that
Zirkle had also threatened and abused members of Barbara Shifflett's
Zirkle v. Commonwealth,
553 S.E.2d 520 (Va. 2001) (Direct Appeal) (Rockingham County).
A grand jury in Rockingham County issued three
indictments against Daniel Lee Zirkle charging him with the
following offenses: the capital murder of Jessica Shifflett "as part
of the same act or transaction in which he unlawfully, feloniously,
willfully, deliberately and with premeditation killed Christina
Zirkle" in violation of Code § 18.2-31(7) ; the capital murder of
Jessica Shifflett "within the three year period in which he
unlawfully, feloniously, willfully and deliberately with
premeditation killed Christina Zirkle" in violation of Code §
18.2-31(8) and breaking and entering in the daytime of a dwelling
house with the intent to commit murder while armed with a deadly
weapon in violation of Code § 18.2-90 (Zirkle was convicted of the
capital murder of Christina Zirkle and sentenced to death. See
Zirkle v. Commonwealth, 262 Va. 320, 551 S.E.2d 601 (2001) .
On August 16, 2000, Zirkle's counsel informed the
circuit court that Zirkle desired to enter pleas of guilty to the
indictments and to request that the court impose upon him a sentence
of death. Zirkle's counsel told the circuit court that they had
discussed the pleas with Zirkle "in great length" and that they
disagreed with him, but that he desired to enter the guilty pleas
over their objections. Zirkle further advised his counsel that he
would not permit them to participate in the penalty phase of the
proceedings by presenting mitigating evidence.
The circuit court examined Zirkle extensively
regarding counsel's representations to the court, which Zirkle
confirmed. Zirkle was arraigned, and he entered pleas of guilty to
the indictments. The circuit court considered a proffer of the
evidence that the Commonwealth would have adduced during the guilt
phase of the trial of the capital murder charges and the non-
capital charge. Zirkle agreed with the Commonwealth's proffer.
The circuit court conducted an inquiry incident
to the tendered pleas and concluded that Zirkle was mentally
competent and fully capable of understanding the proceedings. The
court also found that Zirkle fully understood the nature and effect
of his guilty pleas and the possible penalties that could be imposed
upon him. The circuit court found that Zirkle's pleas were made
freely, intelligently, and voluntarily.
The circuit court accepted
Zirkle's pleas and found him guilty of capital murder as charged in
the indictments and guilty of breaking and entering with the intent
to commit murder while armed with a deadly weapon. Zirkle received a
life sentence for his conviction of breaking and entering with the
intent to commit murder while armed with a deadly weapon, and even
though he filed a notice of appeal from that conviction, he does not
challenge that conviction or sentence on appeal.
Pursuant to Code § 19.2-264.4 , the circuit court
proceeded with the penalty phase of the capital murder trial. Zirkle
instructed his counsel not to present mitigation evidence. The court
directed Zirkle's counsel to prepare to present mitigation evidence
in the penalty phase of the proceeding in the event that Zirkle
subsequently changed his mind. Zirkle again instructed his counsel
to refrain from presenting evidence in the penalty phase of the
proceeding. The circuit court, on numerous occasions, asked Zirkle
whether he desired to present evidence during the penalty phase of
the proceeding, and on each occasion, Zirkle responded in the
The Commonwealth presented its evidence. After
considering the evidence and a report prepared by the probation
officer pursuant to Code § 19.2-299 , the circuit court found that
the Commonwealth had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that there is
a probability based upon the evidence of prior history of the
defendant and the circumstances surrounding the offense that Zirkle
would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a
continuing serious threat to society, and that his conduct in
committing the offense was outrageously and wantonly vile, horrible
and inhuman, in that it involved torture, depravity of mind or
aggravated battery to the victim, Jessica Shifflett. The circuit
court entered a final judgment fixing Zirkle's punishment at death.
Zirkle apparently directed his counsel not to
appeal the judgment of the circuit court. His counsel filed "a
motion for direction and guidance" in the clerk's office of this
Court. We entered an order that required the circuit court to
conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Zirkle's
decision not to pursue an appeal was voluntary and intelligent. We
also directed the circuit court to obtain Zirkle's written waiver
under oath and file it with the transcribed record of the hearing in
the event the court determined that Zirkle's decision was voluntary
After conducting a hearing, the circuit court
concluded that Zirkle's "directions to his [c]ounsel not to
participate in the appeal process and his decision not to
participate in the appeal process were intelligently, voluntarily,
and knowingly made and that [Zirkle] is mentally competent to make
the decision to waive his appeal rights." The circuit court obtained
an executed written waiver of Zirkle's right of appeal, signed by
Zirkle in open court and under oath.